MANILA, Philippines – In a country where over 8 million are food-poor, food scavenging has sadly become a norm for many families.
Others call it trash, but for them, it’s their “meal of the day.”
Sautéed with a bit of oil, garlic, and a choice between patis or toyo, are various parts of fried chicken. However, what remains of the chicken are mostly just bones.
In the Philippines, these recycled meals are called “pagpag,” which roughly translates to “dusted off food.” Families scour dumpsites for what appears to be “still edible.”
The sound of garbage trucks, carrying leftovers from fast food chains, signals meal time.
Families clean the leftover food by dusting it off (pagpagin). To be extra sure, others wash the leftovers before boiling or frying – modifying someone’s dinner leftovers into someone else’s breakfast.
Pagpag is also a business. Some food scavengers sell their pagpag, sometimesgiving discounts to neighbors and patrons.
Health professionals warn against the dangers of eating pagpag. They are at risk of getting salmonella and other illnesses. Eating nothing but pagpag can be detrimental to children’s health for they are not getting the nutrients needed for proper growth and development.
Despite these warnings, some families say they have no other choice. It’s either pagpag or nothing at all.
‘Meal of the Day’
Filmmaker Giselle Santos produced a short documentary entitled, “Meal of the Day” with a grant from YourWorldView, an online platform for emerging filmmakers around the world.
Santos made the short documentary right after she graduated from college. During her research, she noticed that most films made about pagpag had outsiders as narrators.
“I wanted the people to tell their own stories and that was the main idea and motivation for the film. More than the idea of pagpag, I wanted to know more about the people, their experience, their reasons,” Santos said.
In the film, the families themselves narrate – they share where they get their food and how they turn it into meals. The stories are dismaying for they display the harsh reality many Filipinos face every day, the same reality that several other Filipinos are unaware of.
Santos said that dumpsites have their own supervisors who employ the help of the Tondo residents in sorting recyclable materials. Aside from receiving fees, the workers could also take home pagpag.
Others do not ask for fees, instead, they get paid with pagpag – which they either consume for themselves or sell to others.
When Santos asked the families what pagpag is, they answered, “Pagkain ng mahirap (food of the poor).”
“It’s quite saddening and frightening to realize that the gap between the poor and rich in our country can be measured by what we throw in our bins,” Santos said.
Santos urged government to be more proactive in addressing the issue. In the meantime, families in Tondo and elsewhere continue the long tradition of pagpag. – Rappler.com
Giselle Santos is a media graduate of the London College of Communication, and has extensive experience working in short film productions. She has recently produced a short documentary about a cemetery community in Navotas, Philippines, which won a One World Media Award in 2012 and has been screened in Encounters Film Festival, Rushes Shorts, London Short Film Festival and Tampere Film Festival. You can also read about the production process of “Meal of the Day” here.
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